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A letter from an alum about visas for international students

June 17, 2003

A quick comment on President Tilgman’s well-articulated May 14th column on the student visa system. I am glad to see Princeton taking part in the national discussion on these issues.

In my view, our student visa system was instituted and operated quite simply for the convenience and economic benefit of our colleges and universities (and, in turn, our country). This is not meant to impugn this group, but merely to point out the reality afflicting many of our immigration laws and policies. We all now recognize that the student visa system inadvertently provided other opportunities (it became an opportunity for terrorists to gain entry to America and harm Americans). Like many immigration programs, the student visa system is being reworked so as to not merely facilitate the entry of foreign students, but also to prevent future acts of terror.

I can understand the frustrations with the newly-instituted Sevis student visa database and empathize with those looking for quick answers during this time of major upheaval and transition from the former I.N.S. to the new Department of Homeland Security. I only urge patience as the government works out any problems in what is a highly intricate system, which now must serve more purposes than just enabling schools to bring in students. We must also remember that this system will be used by many institutions, not all of which operate with Princeton’s diligence and integrity. That same patience will be required of families and the business, arts, tourism and many other constituencies that have over the years helped craft our complex (and sometimes contradictory) immigration policies, statutes and regulations. Everyone will need to plan ahead to a much greater extent, given the increased demands on an overburdened and historically underfunded government agency.

It would be folly to blame the current situation on any particular administration for complications over immigration systems like the student visa system. Both major political parties have had sharp internal debates over immigration policy. Viewing the situation from inside the government, it has become clear to me that we as a nation lack a consensus on what we want from our immigration policy. Our immigration laws, regulations and procedures – right down to our student visa database system -- reflect that lack of consensus.

I work for the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.), but the views expressed in this letter are my own, and are not intended to express the official views of D.H.S.

Peter N. Schmalz ’89
Essex Junction, Vt.

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